The Referendum – How much power to the people?

To hold a referendum seems to have become the newest way of externalizing difficult issues. For sure, there are countries with a long tradition of directly involving their citizens  with all kinds of issues, like accepting foreigners or not, raising taxes or not, or to add a train or not. In Switzerland, people are used to it, and one could make the point that the political system there may be flexible enough to digest it – though a while ago, the almighty people voted in favor of limiting the movement of EU citizens which produced a problem for the de-facto Swiss membership in the common market.

But otherwise, referenda are blossoming, and regardless of whether they create confusion or not, seem to be gaining in popularity. We do not have to mention the Brexit referendum that failed to meet the expectations of their organizers (and subsequently outed them from office), and the consequences of which the UK and EU officials now have to focus on for years to come. But there was however, one referendum on accepting a certain number of asylum seekers in the EU framework in Hungary (that equally failed), which will now be circumvented by the government. There was another referendum on the peace deal in Colombia a few days ago – that one failed too, and both government and the formerly armed opposition, FARC, now have to remedy the damage. In November, Italy will hold a referendum looking for the consent of the people to streamline their so-far awkward decision-making process which is predicted to probably fail as well. Let’s not forget the referenda on planned EU treaty revisions that went down: Ireland rejected Nice in 2001, Denmark and Sweden rejected Europe in 2000 and 2003,  France and the Netherlands rejected the EU Constitution in 2005, and so on.

The question for this week is: Why on earth are sane politicians continuing to put complex issues in the hands of voters who decide by whatever criteria, but rarely on the substance of an issue?

– Prof. Klaus Segbers

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  1. Alexei Voskressenski 3 years ago

    Politicians are continuing to put complex issues in the hands of voters who in some difficult cases decide not on the substance of issues but on momentum, emotions, short-run perceptions etc. Politicians want a popular support for difficult decisions where the responsibility can be put on a side of collective others. This is another side of the blossoming populism even in democratic societies. It deconstructs a substance of political decisions. Democracy does not in all cases means all power to the people but a burden of unpopular political decisions can be sustained only by a popularly elected politician with political will, vision and wisdom. But even such a person can be wrong in some cases, and if such things occurs he steps down voluntarily or not, but through democratic procedures.

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  2. Justas Paleckis 3 years ago

    Let’s agree that Switzerland is a unique case. According to the traditional "Zauberformell" all the major parties work in the coalition and there is virtually no opposition. Therefore, there must be a balance and referendums (a couple of hundred years ago – men gathered in a market square) more or less successfully solved and solve the most important and not so important questions. In other countries, the constitutions oblige to pose some subjects in referendums (the best example - Ireland). And in most countries, referendums are announced by collecting a certain number of signatures or by the parliamentary decision. They are often used as a political weapon in the battles between parties. And that weapon successfully disrupts the democratic system which is going through a difficult time anyway. A voter does not really go deep into the essence of the referendum’s raised question or into its details. He just wants to punish the ones who are in power, the elite. Therefore a safety-net is invented: an increasing number of countries raise the bar for referendum to be declared valid. But it is hardly Madrid and London will conceive something to protect themselves from the impact of the Catalan and Scottish referendums for independence.

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  3. Stefan Engert 3 years ago

    Referenda are currently en vogue in Europe! And this is not a good sign (if you aren’t Swiss). They are en vogue because the representative or parliamentary democracy model is in a state of crisis: In Europe, the traditional big-tent parties (or Volksparteien) at the center, which usually attract the mainstream of the ordinary European middle class voter (e. g. the Christian-Democrat or Social Democrat catch-all parties), have all lost a substantial share of the vote to populist and Euro-sceptic movements on the far right (but also on the far left) in France, Italy, Germany, Austria, the UK, Hungary, and the Netherlands. Due to waning support already, governments and established political parties have become over-anxious to lose even more support. As a consequence, they increasingly rely on outsourcing fundamental decisions about unpopular topics (such as EU issues or the refugee question) to the people directly. Thus, what may look as a step towards more democracy, more inclusion, and more legitimacy in general, is rather a move towards avoiding responsibility for disliked decisions. Currently, referenda are rather crisis indicators than signs of democratic strength or self-assurance.

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  4. Shen Dingli 3 years ago

    Referenda are being staged more frequently in various parts of the world, especially in Europe. Lately Britain has conducted referenda, on Scotland’s separation from it, which failed, and on Brexit, which succeeded. Canada used to conduct referendum on Quebec’s cessation from the federation, which also failed. In Asia, some in Taiwan used to be keen in referendum on the use of nuclear energy, but mainland China has been opposed to it, for fear of the island’s independence from China, in the name of referendum.

    On the surface, staging referendum is to allow a total democracy. Since referendum will engage all qualified voters on an equal footing, theoretically employing referendum would lead to most democratic outcome. Quebec’s referendum on its future was such an example. Through accepting the outcome of the collective decision not to leave Canada, such use of democracy allows sustained stability of the country.

    However, democracy doesn’t automatically mean an ability to balance individual and collective interest. Individual people’s interest could keep changing and it is important that before referendum, one shall allow adequate debate and education, through providing information and simulation, so as for the public to realize what a new paradigm will be and how it will affect common life, should the referendum truly alter the public discourse.

    It is hard to be sane for leaders to leave the burden to be shouldered by the public. Beijing’s opposition to any kind of referendum in Taiwan looks assertive, but at least helps avoid a collision of the two in case of a referendum on the part of the island for independence in the name of democracy. Britain was lucky in allowing referendum of Scotland referendum on separation, without success. But it could not always be lucky. Playing referendum on Brexit is an example.

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  1. Arseniy Frolov 3 years ago

    From my point of view, the problem stems from the crisis of ideas, which was encountered by more or less all the political parties across the spectrum. Gaining votes took priority over creating future and critical approach to the state-of-affairs, parties cesed to be the chanels for creative ideas. Therefore they outsource the major decisions to the people, because a party itself does not have neither the firm position over a matter, nor the willingness to formulate one and be a subject of public dislike.
    This, partly, is the effect of centrist tendensies, which have been around for a while. Nowadays political parties try giving one-size-fit-all solutions to appeal to all social groups, meaning giving no solutions at all.
    Arseniy Frolov, GSR Alumni 2015

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  2. worldklaus 3 years ago

    Cause and effect have to be considered in historical context: January is the month I am eating less food, comparable with any other month, but there is nothing wrong with the month of January, it’s just the cause of over eating every December, with the effect of dieting every January. It’s an exaggeration that our model of democracy is in crises, as democracy in Europe is strong and deeply rooted in society. The current populism wave is just the counter wave of the previous free trade/liberalism movement. Free trade went to the extreme in the last 2 decades, with globalization scaring the Europeans, this is just the natural correction phase. So many distractions can cloud one’s view. Don’t get distracted by the referendum hype: the BREXIT referendum is not legally binding, and I am convinced any British Government will implement a “backdoor” before starting exit negotiations. Let’s also not get distracted by all the media noise, historical analysis has to conclude, that this is not a critical juncture for the development of the EU.

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  3. Zoltan Eperjesi 3 years ago

    Certain aspects of the Hungarian case. Please consider my traduction of the Hungarian article written by an emeritus Hungarian linguist professor of Klausenburg (Romania).

    N. Sándor, Szilágyi: "The not surprising outcomes of an oversized experiment

    I have great news for linguists, probably a world sensation: on 2 October 2016 in Hungary was carried out a pragmatic experiment that was never made nowhere else with so many people and probably never will be made anymore (although as I can see politics, I am not sure of this). The results are now incontestably demonstrating that what one expected on the basis of what we know so far. But perhaps we should start with what is pragmatics. Everyone could have noticed that in certain communication situations some types of sentences are to be understood completely different than what it's about in the strict sense. For example, if I am telling to somebody in a room: Here is stuffy air, whereupon he immediately opens the window. I did not told him to open it, but he will understand not only what I communicated, but also why I said that and what would like to achieve with this message. Pragmatics deals with this kind of linguistic interactions, which is an interesting science that has a quite large overlap with linguistics too, especially with semantics.
    Mainly pragmatics also deals with irony because in most cases this consists in the way we are saying something, which has to be understand just the opposite in that situation. For example, if something is gone wrong, one can remark ironically (not necessarily sarcastically, because irony and sarcasm do not completely cover each other) that: Way to go! It really means that is very badly done.
    Such phrases are often ironic questions. For example, we are trying in vain to dissuade someone about something, which you can guess it will not be good at all, but he is doing it despite of this, then when he realises the disastrous results, as well, we well ask him: Are you satisfied now? This question turns into an ironic question, because we ask at all in that situation as we are really sure that he is not happy at all, but quite the opposite. We are not used to formulate ironical questions in order to find out something and this fact is also well-known by the person, who we are asking, therefore usually one will not get yes or no responses to such remarks. And now we have achieved that point why we should mention the above. A typical kind of ironic question is, when you ask someone if he wants something that everyone knows that it is a wrong thing for him, therefore normal people do not want it. For example, if a child climbs up somewhere and we are asking him: Do you want to break your neck? Here we are not interested in the answer again as with this question, we do not want to know whether the child wants it or not, and in order to find out this, we would not operate with such an unsuitable question, but rather we are trying to persuade him about something else, (and it is quite an important component for this), right now we are trying to make him to get down from there. Usually we will not answer with yes or no to such questions, and if it requires an answer then it is clear, knowing it in good time in advance that the answer can only be no. Of course, there will always be possible that one or two of hundred children will answer with yes, because of mischievousness in this case, but we also know that this is only a joke.
    If we really want to find out what proportion of people give yes or no answers to such ironically constructed questions as do you want...? (It does not really matters what the topic of the question is), then one could check this with pragmatic experiments. The number of persons polled in this type of experiments usually does not oversteps the number of hundred people, because the overwhelming majority of responses is for example unanimously no by this kind of ironic questions. Therefore, it does not really make sense to ask more people, because it is quite obvious that roughly the same ratio will be obtained even by thousand respondents.
    The big news is that such an experiment was carried out in Hungary at such a large human sample that it really needs to be considered in the book of records. The ironic question that was used in the experiment was: "Do you want the European Union to be able to order the mandatory settlement of non-Hungarian citizens in Hungary without parliament’s consent?" It is apparent that this asking style has the same breakneck structure as presented in the above: it asks if you want to, and it is followed by something that particularly in this form in the way it is put, a sane person hardly could want, as for whom on earth would be good that, who wants something like this, and how could be dare somebody to come to something like this at all? And as for this type of ironic questions, the purpose of this was not to find out who wants what, because such a question is inherently unsuitable for this issue, but rather to convince people to do something. It becomes even more obvious if we look at some other understandable variants of the question that was made during the preparation phase of the experiment, as these were all around especially in the internet articles and comments of Facebook accounts, for example: “Do you want that migrants come here and rape your girl and wife?" Is clear that this is not about, as the originally formulated question as well, if you really want it, but rather if you do not want you can go and vote as it is expected.
    They wanted to put this question to 8.261.394 adult Hungarian people, but only 3.561.735 of them has committed to participate in the experiment. 223.252 people (6, 27% of the respondents) gave an answer that could not be assessed in accordance with the experimental protocol, because only clear yes or no answers were considered. However, the noticeably high proportion of uninterpretable responses shows well (and it is also a remarkable lesson of the experiment), that people are perceiving it unnatural that it is expected to answer with yes or no to such an ironically formulated question, because it is not used to do so. Therefore according to the "stupid question stupid answer" principle they just marked both answers. Apart from this 3.338.483 answers were assessable and as expected or in fact even predictably so far, based on the nature of the question, 3.282.928 ballots (98.34% of the assessed) were no, and only 55.555 (1,66%) were yes, which is roughly equal to the proportion of children who are used to answer with yes to such ironic questions.
    However, it is something noteworthy in connection with the yes answers. It is completely clear that those who gave such an answer, they did not responded so as though they really want this, not at all, but rather they were showing here “an open objection to no” in order to not achieve such an overall outcome that is so fiercely expected by somebodies. In turn, the experimental results are showing (and this is an important scientific result of this experiment) how difficult it is to answer with yes to such an ironic question. Furthermore, it is almost impossible to answer with yes. Just think that there were many who were investing a lot of energy to convince the people to answer 'yes' and even so the ratio of yes is only 1.66%! To see why this is the case, we will better understand it, when considering that in the background of such ironic questions are always a hidden message (and actually this makes them ironical) that has the meaning of "Are you really stupid?" And now it should put hand up those who really want to happily say 'yes' to something like this!
    Thus, the result of the pragmatic mega experiment (and actually that's all what one can find out of this) is the following: if we are putting people in such a situation that they should give yes or no responses to whatever ironic question commencing with do you want..., then it could be expected that the proportion of non-responses will be over 98%, in turn the percentage of yes-answers will be insignificant even if some agents will try to persuade participants of the experiment to choose yes. And this matches whit that preliminary hypothesis that one has expected. When I saw for the first time this question, I was immediately telling my colleagues here (a pity that I did not write it at that time as I could rely on it now) that the proportion of non-responses will be around 90%. I was not guessing a bigger percentage, because I was not only thinking on the evaluable answers of the experiment, but rather on overall non-responses and if one counts them all together then we will get 92,17%, thus I was not so wrong.
    And this is definitely not so because only 43.11% of those invited agreed to participate in the experiment, since the issue was not dependent on who attended and who did not, but rather due to the pragmatic characteristics of the question even if all invited participants would have been present, even in that case a very different result could not have been expected. Let's just say that maybe the ratio of “open objection to no” answers would be a little bit bigger, because it is very probable that among potential participants who were not participating in the experiment were still other people, who were convinced to chose yes, but instead to answer to such a question as natural reaction they decided to not to do so in order to not ridicule themselves. (Besides the lower than expected participation rate also means something: so many people have felt stupid if they were challenged directly in the field to answer yes or no to such an ironic question, as they usually do not answer to this in such a manner, therefore they decided to not to participate at all in the experiment.)

    ------To be continueed with second part-----


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  4. Zoltan Eperjesi 3 years ago

    Second part
    "Besides it is to mention that in the case of “do you want” ironical questions the proportion of yes- and no answers is quite independent of the fact what the question is about. If they would asked "Do you want that for the same work you have done till today as of now you would receive two-thirds of the current salary?", then the ratio of non-answers would be probably also above 98%, and there would be very few yes-responses, - even in this case just for fun.
    Thus, this experiment is a world premiere, and not only because of the large number of participants, but rather also because according to official calculations the government's campaign to ensure a "no" vote has cost close to £30m (contains only the financial costs).
    Never before and nowhere else has been spent so much money for a pragmatic experiment, especially not to such one from which is nothing more you can get to know as if we knew all along. Until now the irony of the question was concerned. However, it is "an irony of fate," that this pragmatic experiment is now viewed by everyone as a referendum only because it was organized as such and the results are interpreted accordingly as if it were about the "people's will”. But this is not saying anything about that, simply because it cannot tell something about: it only means (and this is even proven by the more than 98% share of non-answers!) that participants immediately recognized that it is an ironic question, and everybody knew that according to the rules of the pragmatic what kind of answer is expected to such a structure. And yet politicians are very surprised and they can hardly believe their luck what they really see: "The Prime Minister said [...] that 98 percent of the valid ballots voted against the mandatory quota of migrants. According to him this is such a political unity, which has been not manifested in any other issue before.” Furthermore, (to quote him verbatim): “This is a new kind of unity that did not come up as a party issue, but rather above parties in the national case.” Nevertheless, this “new kind of unity” rather just prevailed in the application of the pragmatic rules and it is not so much "new" as presented, because it was not created right now, this already exists for a long time as pragmatics of language functions as such for everyone regardless of party affiliation. And precisely this 98% is showing beyond all doubt that’s what it's all about, because there is no real politician who can imagine if people should truly express their wishes among Hungarians it would be possible on any issue to get 98% consensus, as it is really highly improbable and even incredible. However, if we look at this story what it really was then 98% is roughly the rate at which answers can be expected by such ironic questions in such pragmatic experiments. Although politicians were keen to make to look this like a referendum, but to make it real it would have been necessary at least as much professionalism as well, in order to not to pose such an ironical question, but rather another one, which allows people to really express their own opinions and are not influenced by the rules of pragmatic language. (Of course, if the real objective is not to find out what the people really want, but rather the result should be so spectacular that you can then show it everywhere, now then it becomes understandable that such a "tricky" question should be asked because in that case it comes out what you expect. But I'd rather not say anything about it, because I was not there to know how exactly this happened, instead I am following Murphy's quite wise law, which reads as follows: if something can be satisfactorily explained with ordinary human stupidity it is not necessary to presume bad faith as well. However, those who know how it was that they can even decide what is actually behind this story, and they must also choose between amazing dilettantism or in bad faith, because one of the two certainly exists in this case, and there is no third possibility, unless the two mentioned possibilities together. I do not hope that they will let to know which side one's bread is buttered, but I would be curious about.) For instance, they could have been asked something in the form of: "Do you agree with (but if we are curious about people's will here is even possible to begin with do you want) that the National Assembly should legally establish that without the consent of the National Assembly, nobody can oblige Hungary to agree to accept to settle here permanently no Hungarian citizens? This not really belongs to standard law category, but rather in the Basic Law, but that cannot be included in the question, because according to Article 8 of the Basic Law: "(3) it is not possible to organize a national referendum about a) questions with the aim to change the Basic Law”. However, the National Assembly can decide even subsequently that the will of the people, which was expressed during the referendum, has to be rather included in the Basic Law, where it has it place, since after all it is also the law. (By comparison is quite interesting that the Prime Minister has announced in his speech as he assessed for the first time the results of “the referendum” that on that basis he will now propose an amendment to the Basic Law. Because if according to the Basic Law one cannot hold a referendum about a question formulated in the aim of an amendment, then it is also questionable if it is possible to propose a constitutional amendment with reference to the referendum. Apart from that, he can feel free to propose, yet without justifying it with the results of the referendum, but rather completely independently from those. However, this being the case he could have done it even a half year ago, because there is no need for a referendum. It would have been cheaper and we had it all behind us already well before. Of course, if not even just that little can be showed as an achievement, then it would be indeed difficult to explain to the voters what the use of it was.)
    The formerly raised question has its benefits as it is obvious to everyone and there is no need to be a professional for such formulations, but in this case:
    1. It is possible to respond by yes, but also by no in accordance to who sees this how much important or timely, meaning it effectively allows people to express their own opinions.
    2. Since it offers a concrete target, this kind of referendum could have been a decisive one, where the result is what really matters, because in the case of valid and successful voting the National Assembly is obliged to act accordingly, thus it also has a real input.
    3. It considers Hungary’s opportunities on a statutory basis and it can choose what should be included in the in the Basic Law. On the contrary, it is quite irrational to ask Hungarian voters about what kind of decisions should take the European Union as there the decisions are made together with the representatives of the Member States and Hungarian voters can express their wishes at the utmost, but in turn this has no any legal consequences.
    4. Such a drafting also causes much less resentment in the EU as soon as according to people's will one will represent there the principles included in the (basic) law, because the EU is not even mentioned here and there is no need to do that since if we have decided on something this must be clear not only for the EU, but even for all parts. Consequently, the decision should concern all possible external actors, thus in real case and if it would apply, then this could apply even to America, Russia or anyone else.
    5. It is clear that in order to achieve the goal by questions formulated in this manner it should be not answered with no, but rather with yes, which is very important and is basic requirement to all professionally worded referendum questions; this is something that not even requires much expertise. Namely by 'yes' decisions we are voting to something and always specifically expressing what we want, but by 'no' decisions, we are voting against something. Subsequently, there is no opportunity to express ourselves if the no decisions will be valid as after that it is still questionable what should be the real solution for the problem. This still remains an open end track or as a problem to be solved: consequently we did not make anything by this.
    6. Moreover, such a question, which is formulated in our example, also includes a completely different campaign structure as we have seen before October that does not cause as large damages as when one must vote against something.
    Therefore, we have seen what happened: it evolved rapidly into something else as it was originally designated and the message of the whole campaign was that everyone has to vote against the refugees, while in turn, according to the initial question it should have been against any decision made by the EU (but basically this was dropped in the meantime by the EU). The campaign filled the people with irrational fears and triggered soul destroying hatred against refugees. Anyway, the whole campaign tuned precisely in the opposite direction, because of the aforementioned reasons and also because the organisers did not anticipated that among the Hungarians, despite of coercive policies there are still many well intended people who were made quite unsure experiencing such kind of aggressive campaign that addressed most despicable emotions and tried to mobilize along this line. Therefore, they simply decided to not to be involved in this and stayed apart, which is also clearly reflected in the much lower than expected number of participants."

    To be continued with the conclusion

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  5. Zoltan Eperjesi 3 years ago

    Last part of the article of N. Sándor Szilágyi:
    "Consequently, it would not have been so complicated to prepare this professionally and in that case we would not be in the current situation by confronting with justifications regarding the effectiveness of an invalid "plebiscite" where many people are full of fear and anxiety concerning what will happen now. According to the logic of the campaign, the great fear was only necessary until October 2, but this remains a long time yet in the people and instigated hatred also continues to poison the souls for a long time. Nonetheless, people have enough problems even without this and that was the last thing what they needed. If politicians would also be conscientious and not only calculated minds, then they could now stay to their words and explain the people the following: now you can be assured that there's nothing wrong anymore, because we just scared you to death in order to mobilize you and to get your votes as we wanted, because this was important for us, even if it was unimportant for you, but not even we meant this as a serious problem. I think, if this would happen like this, it would be also a word premier."


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  6. Zoltan Eperjesi 3 years ago

    Another interisting politicking aspect of the referendum as publiced in the HUNGARIAN SPECTRUM

    At the end of yesterday’s post I indicated that Gábor Vona, chairman of Jobbik, had just announced his party’s refusal to support the government party’s quest for another round of amendments to the constitution that would introduce a number of changes related to the settlement of foreigners in Hungary. Earlier I wrote an analysis of the notion of constitutional identity, which is the linchpin of the otherwise meaningless constitutional amendments, and published an English translation of the amendments themselves.

    The government considers these amendments vital to Viktor Orbán’s impending battle with Brussels over a possibly mandatory distribution of refugees. But changing the constitution requires a two-thirds majority in parliament, which Fidesz-KDNP currently doesn’t have. The government party had been counting on the support of Jobbik, the only opposition party that was wholeheartedly behind the amendments. In fact, it was Jobbik that, from the beginning, championed for constitutional amendments instead of a referendum. Fidesz, however, rejected the proposal and embarked on an expensive, divisive referendum that in the end turned out to be invalid.

    What followed was a typical Viktor Orbán move: regardless of the failure of his referendum he decided to go ahead with the amendments to the constitution. But there was a rub. Jobbik demanded a price for its members’ votes, which Gábor Vona set forth early in the game.

    For starters, Vona said that he wanted to meet with the prime minister in private. In the last six years, however, it has never happened that the ruler of Hungary sat down alone with an opposition leader. Granting such a privilege to Vona was too demeaning, so Orbán organized a series of “consultations,” starting with Zsolt Semjén of the Christian Democratic Party and his own deputy, which everybody thought was a joke. Then he sent a message to Gyula Molnár, chairman of MSZP, who foolishly accepted the invitation, which he kept secret from the rest of the leading politicians of his party. Once the meeting became known, Molnár tried to explain himself away by saying that the consultation was not about the amendments but about the summit that is taking place at this very moment in Brussels. Since when does Viktor Orbán have consultations with opposition party chiefs about summits?

    The long-awaited meeting between Vona and Orbán took place on October 18. In the days leading up to the meeting, Jobbik spokesmen repeatedly indicated that the party would support Orbán and that the Jobbik delegation would cast its votes with Fidesz-KDNP, guaranteeing an easy passage of the amendments. After all, this is what they wanted all along. Yes, but Jobbik was in a perfect position to demand something in exchange for its support of the government party. Vona’s demand was that the government cease selling residency bonds to wealthy Chinese, Russian, and Arab businessmen.

    The residency bond sale, which I described as a “colossal swindle,” is the brainchild of Árpád Habony and Antal Rogán. Habony is safely deposited in London. Rogán, on the other hand, has been under incredible pressure, mostly because of Népszabadság’s revelations about his most likely ill-gotten wealth. The residency bond scheme has been severely criticized not only by the opposition but by some higher-up Fidesz leaders as well. In fact, in the last few weeks there were indications that the scheme would be modified. But I very much doubt that Orbán had the total cessation of the program in mind. And this is what Vona demands. If poor immigrants can’t settle in Hungary, rich ones shouldn’t be able to either.

    The outcry against the Jobbik demand was not restricted to the government party. Gyula Molnár, chairman of MSZP, also condemned it in almost identical words. Bence Tuzson, one of the many spokesmen of the prime minister’s office, called it “kufárkodás” (profiteering) while Molnár considered it “seftelés” (conducting business in a dishonorable way). The two words are practically synonymous. For good measure Molnár added that Vona’s behavior is “political prostitution” pure and simple.

    I am amazed at these reactions. In the world of politics this kind of give and take is perfectly normal. If Viktor Orbán needs the help of Gábor Vona’s party, it is natural that Jobbik will want something in return. After the meeting, Vona talked to the press and announced that Viktor Orbán had rejected his proposal, but a few minutes later Orbán sent a message via Tuzson saying that “he will consider the request of Vona.”

    The Hungarian media started speculating about whether Orbán would meet Vona’s demands. Szabolcs Dull of Index simply could not imagine that it will be Viktor Orbán who has to knuckle under. After all, Orbán has convinced the Hungarian public that he is always the one who comes out on top. He is always the winner. In fact, Dull suggested, Orbán wants to get rid of the troublesome residency bonds anyway, and therefore he will readily concede to Vona’s demands. In fact, “he will kill two birds with one stone: he will be able to restructure the residency bond scheme and will receive Jobbik’s endorsement.”

    Dull’s theory collapsed less than ten hours later when the government indicated that it has no intention of scrapping the residency bond program. Yesterday, around noon, Lajos Kósa, leader of the Fidesz caucus, announced that in their opinion the two issues, the bonds and the settlement of foreigners, have nothing to do with one another and suggested that Fidesz isn’t counting on the votes of Jobbik. They hope to get the necessary two votes from the “independent” members of parliament. Who these “independent” members would be is not entirely clear, but some Fidesz politicians indicated that they think a few “patriotic” Jobbik members could be found who would turn against Vona. By this afternoon most Hungarian journalists were convinced that Fidesz will put the amendments to a vote on November 8 even if they are not assured of Jobbik’s support.

    Antal Rogán, carrying Viktor Orbán's briefcase in Maastricht, October 20, 2016
    Antal Rogán, carrying Viktor Orbán’s briefcase in Maastricht today

    In trying to win concessions from Orbán, did Vona sow the seeds of his own destruction? Today Magyar Nemzet speculated about why a Fidesz defeat would actually be good for Fidesz and bad for Jobbik. If the amendments are not passed and if Brussels insists on compulsory quotas, Fidesz can blame Jobbik.

    Tamás Fábián of Index found this hypothesis compelling, adding that from information he received from people close to Orbán, “Brussels cannot be stopped and within months the compulsory quotas will be forthcoming.” If that is the case, “Jobbik politicians will never be able to get rid of the label of being traitors,” which Lajos Kósa already pinned on them. Fábián is convinced that Vona made a fatal mistake by presenting Orbán with an ultimatum. “He started on a narrow path and will suffer heavy blows along the way.”

    Fábián also predicted that the sale of residency bonds will be continued, even if with some adjustments. Although in the last few days Fidesz spokesmen did talk about fundamental changes, two weeks ago Orbán called the program “a successful construction.”

    I might add that despite all the dirt that was unearthed about Antal Rogán, he seems to have nothing to fear. Orbán will not let him go. I was astonished to see Rogán in Brussels, walking right behind Orbán. Since when do propaganda ministers go to summits in Brussels? I guess the government is sending a message that he is still under the protection of the prime minister.

    OCTOBER 20, 2016"


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  7. Wisam Salih 3 years ago

    The real question is, what constitutes a majority? As a follow-up, are all referenda necessarily binding? In Canada, we passed the Clarity Act in 2000. Specific issues, such as BREXIT cannot and should not be decided with a simple 50% majority. For me, this is the central issue.

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  8. Mao Julin 3 years ago

    There has been an increasing popularity of holding referendum seeking people consent in a particular issue in many countries. One may argue that some kinds of issue is so much complex that it should not be decided by ordinary people. However, there seems to be a popular trend that politicians in many countries has turned to referendum whenever they want to make decision on issues. More and more leaders seems to incorporate people opinion in deciding on a particular policy. This is not surprising since in today globalized world, people power are increasing substantially. The government needs legitimacy from their people in the liberal democratic countries. Even though the nature of the issue is complex, the government still seek consent from people to enhance its legitimacy. It has something to do with domestic politics. Without majority support, the policy of government seems to hardly achieve its objective if not impossible. On the other hand, holding referendum can be a strategy of the politician in providing justification for the decision they want to make but it may provoke international reaction. By holding referendum, their policy could be justified as the will of their people and they have no choice but to follow the majority population will but in fact they already knew that it is a bad policy which creates international rejection. However, they seems to have already calculated that particular policy will beneficial to their country or will serve their national interest. For example, in Brexit case, the international community does not have positive view on the referendum in the UK that people decided to leave the EU. People seems to believe that the UK government don’t want to leave the EU but because of people who have low education, mostly older people, decide to leave just by not knowing how beneficial is EU integration. In fact, those people may have low education but clearly they really face many problems within the EU. Immigration and unemployment are among many problems that people were facing within the EU and the government is out of reach to deal with those problems. Moreover, the EU integration tends to bind state together and link domestic issue to regional issue. The Euro crisis is an example of how the EU trigger domestic issue to become the regional one. The UK may be tired of dealing with many problems which originally is not theirs when they cannot even solve their own domestic problem. The government would think it is rational to leave the EU but this may perceived as irrational decision by the outsiders therefore referendum is a useful tool to justify its action.

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  9. Gianluca De Feo 2 years ago

    If we exclude countries that historically make frequent use of referenda because of political and systemic reasons (e.g. Switzerland), in my opinion this current “blossoming” is a direct consequence of the weakness of democratic institutions. When governments are weak or lack in representativeness they tend to feel the need to “ask to the people” to decide instead of them, in order to regain the power they feel they lost. In this case, the referendum resembles a plebiscite. For instance, when Matteo Renzi in 2016 linked the Constitutional referendum to the continuity of his government, he transformed it in a plebiscite on his political career. Moreover, I reckon that making people decide on technical and complex matters (yes, Brexit was an extremely technical and complex question) is just wrong; the essence of representative democracies is to elect representatives which are required to make difficult decisions instead of the people, let them do they’re work. However, I still feel that there are sets of issues (such as civil rights issues) on which popular approval is most likely required, but often these matters are already raised by the people themselves (in countries a that allow legislative procedures of this kind).

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